CANNES, France >> The Cannes Film Festival, with its late-night soirees and throngs of paparazzi, isn’t an ideal place for children. Few of its movies are PG-rated, nor is much of the nightlife.
Yet at this year’s Cannes, kid actors have delivered many of the festival’s most memorable performances, often by not just equaling their better-known and taller co-stars, but by towering above them. It’s the year of les enfants.
That’s perhaps been especially welcome during a festival where innocence has been hard to come by, and not just on the screen. Monday’s bombing in Manchester, England, which took the lives of many young concertgoers there to see one of their favorite pop stars perform, was acutely felt in Cannes. Already pervasive security measures were ramped up even more after the explosion — measures that had themselves been inflated following last year’s deadly rampage in nearby Nice.
That made the smiling young faces of Cannes’ kids shine all the brighter. Most of them, plucked from obscurity and dropped into the middle of Cannes’ cacophony, were agog at the spectacle they found themselves in — but none looked out of place.
Meet the Cannes class of 2017:
Rungano Nyoni’s “I Am Not a Witch” was one of the standouts of the festival, a film playing in the Directors’ Fortnight section that announced the Welsh, Zambia-born Nyoni as a major new talent. But it wouldn’t have worked without Mulubwa’s remarkable lead performance in the surreal, comic, tragic tale of a young African girl who is declared a witch by her village and exiled.
While researching in Zambia, location scout Tobias Tembo and location manager Gabriel Gauchet happened to take pictures of Mulubwa playing on the beach. The filmmakers auditioned hundreds of girls before deciding, however they could, to track down the arresting girl in their photos. With the help of a local chief and the messaging service Whatsapp, they did. Now Mulubwa is frolicking along the French Riviera.
For the part of Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927 New York, Todd Haynes went searching for a nonprofessional deaf girl who could help carry his period fable “Wonderstruck.” When he saw Simmonds’ audition tape, he said he “shivered.” Her performance was one of the most acclaimed at the festival. She and her young co-star Jaden Michael made for perhaps the cutest pair in Cannes. Their dancing at the film’s post-premiere party, Haynes said, was “outrageous and adorable.”
Said Simmonds, a Utah native: “I never dreamt my life would come here, to this.”
Bong Joon-ho’s fantastical “Okja” contains some eye-catching characters — Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, a digitally created giant pig. But the 13-year-old South Korean actress Ahn Seo-Hyn, who stars as Mija, may best them all. In a wild romp of a movie, she’s the film’s quiet, melancholic core.
BROOKLYNN KIMBERLY PRINCE & VALERIA COTTO
In Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” a Directors’ Fortnight entry, Prince and Cotto play 6-year-olds living in an Orlando, Fla., motel. Their world, poor and gritty, is far cry from the nearby Walt Disney World, but no less magical.
You can count on Michael Haneke to supply a less rosy-eyed view of youth. In “Happy End,” Harduin plays Jean Louis Trintignant’s 13-year-old granddaughter in a film full of disconnected characters in anguish and apathy. Harduin’s young girl is no different, and just as callous, if not more so, than the cruel family members that surround her. The film’s beginning and ending, is seen, disturbingly, through her camera phone.
Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless” his follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Leviathan,” is also no picnic. It’s about a bitterly divorcing couple and their missing 12-year-old son, played by Novikov. The scene that precedes the boy’s flight, in which he overhears his parents trying to pawn him off on the other, provided one of the most haunting, heartbreaking images of the festival. Life was tough for a lot of the kids in Cannes, on screen, at least.